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Family-friendly home organizing tips helps Central PA cut the clutter

Cheryl Faul Gingerich’s husband once spent three hours looking for a particular wrench. He finally gave up and trekked to Home Depot for a new one.

Guess how many wrenches Gingerich found when she organized their garage? Three.

Stephanie Carbaugh puts it, stuff takes over. “Things have babies, and they multiply,” said Carbaugh, owner of SRC-Sensible Resolution for Chaos, Lancaster. In her experience, answering yes to two critical questions means that it’s time for a serious organization plan. “Can I find things when I need them? And does the area I’m looking at cause me stress?”

But where to start? Carbaugh asks one final question and gives the answer. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Solutions differ from home to home. Pottery Barn has wonderful shelving and basket systems for kids’ rooms, and cubbies for boots and sports equipment. But Carbaugh said that cardboard boxes or inexpensive baskets can work just as well. One of her clients assigned each of her three kids a color, putting hooks and mesh market bags for hats, mittens and gloves in the mud room.

At Whitco Home Furnishings, Harrisburg, Assistant Manager Doreen Zorek said that parents often bring kids along when they shop for kids’ furniture. Captain’s beds with built-in drawers are handy for blankets and toys, or families can choose beds with bookshelves at the head and foot. Toy chests may have cushions on top, so they double as seating. Some of Whitco’s systems have transparent bins, so it’s easy to see what’s inside.

“It’s amazing if kids can keep things in place,” Zorek said. “You feel a sense of accomplishment once you’re organized. Clutter causes clutter in your mind.”

In every home, enlisting the kids is crucial. Gingerich asked her 11-year-old son why he never put away his things. Turns out he never felt they were his in the first place. They were hand-me-downs from his older brother. Gingerich kept the old bunk bed but invested about $400 in bedding, Pottery Barn shelving, and a fun undersea mural for the walls.

Now, she said, “he loves his room. He loves to keep it neat, and there are bins for everything, so he knows where it goes.” Every night, before bedtime, he’s assigned small tasks to maintain order, and a weekly maintenance sweep keeps things neat.

Gingerich’s organization plan, created with help from Carbaugh, started with “three major disaster areas”—kitchen closet, desk and garage. Carbaugh made her take a hard look at the stuff that had accumulated over 21 years in the same Lititz home, while Gingerich juggled family responsibilities with her career in piano teaching. “I have three punch bowls. Why do I need three punch bowls?” asked Gingerich, with a laugh. “You start thinking, ‘I’ll have a party, and I’ll have two punches, and maybe one’ll break.”

Beth Lester, a school counselor with 15 years’ experience as a teacher, learned to give kids their say in the classroom, too. Her students, ranging from age 6 through 8, had reading, writing and listening centers. They wanted a science center, and she built it with their input.

“My role was to help them take charge of their learning,” said the Manheim Township resident. “They would take charge of the space, too. They came up with ways they felt the space should be organized. They would often come up and say, ‘Mrs. Lester, this is too high. I can’t reach it.’ There were a lot of containers with scissors and pencils and paper clips and staples. It had to be out so you could see it. I provided all of those things for the students. That freed up my time to teach. When it came time for cleanup, they could put the things away efficiently and make the classroom look nice.”

The system provided ideas for home organization, Lester said. “Using containers and closet spaces,” she said, “You can have files for warranties, paperwork, kids’ artwork.”

In the end, home organizing means more than gaining dominion over stuff. It’s about loving your space, welcoming family and friends without embarrassment, and creating time for more important things. As Beth Lester said, “In teaching, it just helped me spend more time with the children, and that’s what it’s all about. Giving them as much one-on-one time as I can.”

Cheryl Gingerich said that her home is still a work in progress, but it’s certainly more peaceful. Her sons are proud to show off their rooms to friends, and they’re motivated to do their homework there. Her relationship with the boys has improved because she’s not constantly after them to clean up.

“The clutter and the house shouldn’t take so much,” she said. “The time should be taken for things we want in our lives. When you have a simple system, you have more time to do the important things and be with people. I do have more free time. Not a whole lot, but it puts things into perspective when you do this.”

TOP TIPS for family-friendly organizing:

  1. Enlist the kids. They’re part of the team, and they know what they like. When they feel ownership, they’re “part of the process for life,” Stephanie Carbaugh said.
  2. Devote 15 minutes a day to something important—whether it’s organizing or reading—and you’ve won back 62 and a half hours a year.
  3. Create zones in the home, where things belong or don’t belong. Teachers know that zones corral stuff logically, and kids understand the idea from school.
  4. Maintenance doesn’t have to be complicated, but it must be regular. Clean out kitchen cabinets while you put away groceries. Review papers—bank records, kids’ artwork, warranties—once a year. Spend a few minutes every night planning for the day ahead.

SUGGESTIONS for taming the in-home paper blizzard:

  1. Create notebooks by categories and use tabs for subcategories. For instance, break down warranties by electronics, furniture, small appliances, big appliances. Put the paperwork in plastic sleeves, so “When you need to go get something, it’s right there. With the book, somehow, it works,” said Carbaugh. Plus, when you go to unload those outgrown Easy-Bake Ovens at yard sales, you have the original paperwork for potential buyers.
  2. Try the notebook system with schoolwork, too. Create a book for each subject and “tab it out,” she said. Be sure they keep all their returned tests and homework assignments organized by subject. This not only helps kids stay better organized, but it’s a way for you to stay on top of what your kids are doing and learning at school, as well. If you ever have a question, you can just ask to see their schoolwork notebook.
  3. Kids’ artwork—there’s only so much room on the fridge. Carbaugh suggested using craft store discount coupons to buy artwork portfolios. Keep everything neatly, in its own sleeve, where it’s handy for showing off, and organized by grade. At the end of the school year, review your Picasso’s body of work and decide which masterpieces are keepers. This way you can make room for a whole new year’s worth of artwork.
  4. Keep a “shop book”—a notebook broken down by stores that you shop at most often. Write down things as you need them, and keep coupons in there. Keep the book with you at all times, and you eliminate special trips for single items. The next time you’re driving by Target and vaguely recall that you needed something there, just open up the shop book and there it is—party decorations for your nephew’s birthday.


50 Ways to Leave Your Clutter

By Audrey Thomas Value: $12

As people make their resolutions to get organized, a book is available to help them stick to their resolutions all year long. “50 Ways to Leave Your Clutter,” by professional organizer Audrey Thomas is designed to help people conquer their clutter over the course of one year, which allows long-term habits to form. The book is filled with simple, manageable steps to gain control of all types of clutter, including what to do with piles of paper and mail, overflowing e-mail, the Tupperware cupboard and other kitchen surprises. In addition, Thomas offers loads of time and space-saving tips for every area of the home such as: Throw junk mail away immediately, teach children to use a stain stick on their dirty clothes before throwing them in the sorter or hamper, and designate a closet or long drawer for gift wrapping supplies.

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